The brotherhood, however, was soon on collision course with the Free Officers, and this for a number of reasons. Nasser and his fellow officers, having in general a much more modernist and nationalist orientation, were not all that attuned to the brotherhood’s fundamentalism. The one thing both the Free Officers and the Muslim Brethren shared was a keen sense that Egypt and Egyptians were being dominated and manipulated by outside forces, the British in particular. The Free Officers, however, did manage in 1954 to reach an agreement with that old oppressor, Britain, providing a conditional evacuation of British troops from the Suez Canal area and plans for determining the status of the Sudan (whether it would be united with Egypt or—as happened by 1956—opt for independence). The more radical elements of the Muslim Brethren opposed the agreement, and their opposi— tion turned violent. When in October 1954 a Muslim Brother attempted to assassinate Nasser,6 the stage was set for a governmental crackdown on the brotherhood.
146 CONVULSIONS OF MODERN TIMES The subsequent history of this organization, impressive in its size, organ— ization, and fervor, that al-Banna had started from ever so modest beginnings in 1928 can be told in terms of its famous leader, Sayyid Qutb, who will be considered later. For now, what can be said about al—Banna as an ideologue? Most observers see al-Banna as not nearly so logically coherent or com- prehensive as either Mawdudi or Qutb—or, for that matter, Khomeini. Al- Banna, his critics and his partisans "would probably agree, was more nearly a charismatic orator/ preacher and a gifted organizer than a creative and con- sistent thinker. Perhaps, aI—Banna was, for this very reason, all the more effective. Scholars, usually somewhat removed from the hurly-burly of politics, often give too much weight to ideological clarity. In the real world, however, peo- ple rally around powerfully delivered messages that may well be incom- plete, inconsistent, and even illogical. An often cited statement by al—Banna was his description of the Muslim Brethren as “a Salafi movement, an orthodox way, a Sufi reality, a political body, an athletic group, a scientific and cultural society, an economic compa- ny and a social idea.” Such a protean definition—”all things to all men”— is in line with al—Banna’s own vacillation concerning whether the brother- hood should claim to be above divisive politics or act as one of many politi- cal parties in Egypt’s pluralistic polity. When it seemed that the brotherhood could thereby gain in strength, al—Banna "was not averse to playing by the prevailing political rules. Even so, al-Banna’s essential conception of the brotherhood was clear. It was an all-embracing organization transcending political parties, indeed, making them unnecessary. I-Ie envisaged an Islamic utopia with no politi- cal parties, no class antagonism, and no legitimate differences of personal or group interests: the Islamist equivalent of the utopian Marxist classless society. In the
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